Researchers develop better means to diagnose adrenal gland tumors

A newly developed blood test to detect potentially deadly tumors that form in the adrenal glands has been shown to be significantly more sensitive than traditional diagnostic tests. The new test provides earlier and more accurate diagnoses of these tumors in patients with an inherited predisposition to develop them, possibly preventing complications or death. The study, led by researchers at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) and the National Cancer Institute (NCI), will appear in the June 17, 1999, issue of The New England Journal of Medicine(1).

"Although rare, these tumors are clinically important because they must be excluded as a surgically curable cause of hypertension in many of the people who develop high blood pressure," says Graeme Eisenhofer, Ph.D., a researcher in the Clinical Neurocardiology Section of the NINDS, and lead author of the study. "If the tumors are not diagnosed and removed, they can have potentially catastrophic consequences for the patient."

The mainly benign tumors, called pheochromocytomas, are sometimes found in patients with Von Hippel-Lindau (VHL) disease, a familial cancer syndrome with neurologic complications in which affected individuals inherit a predisposition to develop tumors in a number of organs, including the adrenal glands that sit atop the kidneys.

"Pheochromocytoma can occur in VHL patients as young as 8 years of age. Deaths from unsuspected adrenal gland tumors have been reported in young children in these families and it is important to make the diagnosis early so that surgical intervention can be performed," said W. Marston Linehan, M.D., NCI's Chief of Urologic Surgery.

A patient who develops pheochromocytomas for any reason is at risk for dangerous and unpredictable surges in blood levels of certain adrenal gland hormones that regulate blood pressure and which are responsible for the so-called "fight or flight" responses to stress. The surges in hormo

Contact: Marcia Vital or the NCI Press Office
301-496-5751 or 6641
NIH/National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke

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